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YEAH KOWALSKI - EVAN ROBERTS (USA) – 11 OCTOBER 2012

Iris begins tomorrow and already people have started arriving from all over the world! Some of our visiting directors have answered a few questions for us. Here we have Evan Roberts from the USA and his short Yeah Kowalski. 

1)What are you expecting from Cardiff? What are you looking forward to?

 

My family's ancestry is mostly Welsh (hence my name) so I'm really looking forward to connecting to that side of my heritage again. My family visited Wales- and Cardiff- when I was young, but other than peacocks in a park, I don't have many memories from it. I'm excited to revisit the city through the eyes of the queer community of Cardiff, and meet other filmmakers from around the world. I studied in London for a year in college as well, so coming back to the UK always feels good.

 

2)Where did the concept/idea for your short come from?

 

During a sex education class when I was 12, I learned that boys grow armpit hair two years after they grow pubic hair (it's true! Google it.) When a classmate passed out quizzes later that day, I saw a tuft of armpit hair underneath this T-shirt. It's a vivid erotic memory from my youth-- I was so intrigued and excited by the realization that he looked like a man "down there." The image of Shane leaning back in his chair and inadvertently exposing his armpits is a direct illustration of that erotic moment in my life. I was not late bloomer myself, but I started to wonder what a boy who wants armpit hair would do to get it and the trouble he could get into. I wrote the first draft in four hours.

 

3)Can you talk us through the making of your short? (funding, development, post-production…)

 

After the first draft, I brought on a friend, Britta Lundin, to help refine it. I knew I wanted to spend money on casting, so I hired a casting director who had lots of connections in Dallas and Houston as well as Austin. We found all our main characters from this search. Unfortunately for the production, I had a contract job in Africa for two weeks in December, so that by the time I came back, we had two weeks to put everything together, solidify casting and locations, buy props, costume and production design. Adding more pressure, our middle school location did not confirm until three days before shooting.

Despite a crazed pre-production, the actual production went smoothly; so smoothly I thought I might get hit by a car at the end of every day- I didn't trust that I had averted disaster. Disaster came on the second to last day of shooting when the heated pool failed to heat during the night. We had teenagers huddled together for warmth in between camera set ups. The lead actor, Cameron, had taken a hot shower after one take, and then jumped into cold water for a second take and couldn't breath. We stopped shooting, rescheduled all the shots with water for the next day and sent all the extras home.

Cameron had to get his armpits waxed for the shoot. We asked that he leave one hair left for the final shot. During the set up and rehearsals for that shot, he accidentally pulled out the one hair he had. I was quietly destroyed. Miraculously, an even shorter hair had sprouted since his waxing- and it works better for the film anyways.

Post production was over a period of a few months with a few pick up shots: underwater, the basketball game and crowd wave at the gym, and some cutaways during the hair cut. Look closely and you might see that I double for the dad in a plaid shirt at the very beginning.

 

4)What would winning the Iris Prize mean to you?

 

I'm just finishing up my graduate degree here in Austin, and winning the Prize would allow me to keep the momentum I've been building with the my last two films ("33 Teeth" and "Yeah! Kowalski!") and help make the leap from graduate student to an industry professional.

As a filmmaker, it's really important to me to create films that all young people will relate to. I don't want to make coming out films- which is usually how we see young queer teenagers. I want to see- and make- more films about queer characters where the characters sexuality is not the main plot point or main conflict.

I would love the opportunity to come back to the UK and collaborate with local talent. Collaboration is so key in film making, and luckily it's one of my strengths. One of my favorite scenes from "Yeah, Kowalski!" was suggested by our make-up artist and I loved it so much, we got rid of two other shots to make room for it. I'd love the chance to feel part of an international queer film making community have a cross-cultural creative experience like no other. I find that it's not only New York City and Los Angeles that are epicenters of creativity- but these havens like Cardiff (I've heard), and like Austin, Texas that really nurture artists and filmmakers into telling stories that are personal and authentic, without having to compete with a mainstream aesthetic.

Right now, I'm very interested in LGBTI refugee stories, after a project that brought me to South Africa this past summer. In imagining the "what if" of winning the Iris Prize, I've looked into some refugee asylum organizations in Wales. I'd love to use this film as an opportunity to develop an approach I am working with- collaborating with a group of people, in this case LGBTI refugees, to tell stories inspired by their life and then casting them in the film as themselves. Authenticity is the main goal, especially when you make stories about people who aren't normally seen on screen.

The promo in Africa I co-directed and co-produced can be found here

 

5)Do you think that gay children deal with puberty in a different way?

 

Are they more sensitive to it? That's a tough question to speak authoritatively about. I don't believe that gay teenagers deal with puberty in a way that's really all that different from straight teenagers. But of course, puberty is the time when these first feelings of desire and same sex attraction develop. "Yeah, Kowalski!" is an effort to make a film that normalizes as well as pokes fun of this transition- ultimately to send the message that everything is going to be OK. It's only by getting through all the painful and humiliating experiences of youth (like the pool party scene in "Yeah, Kowalski!") that make you stronger.